Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Pocket
Stolen gas in a stolen car, I ran through the night. I turned on the radio, I heard the wail of sirens. The rear view mirror showed police lights. I calmed my nerves, arrested my fear. The police cars drove past me, hunting another man.

I pulled the car to the side of the road and parked it behind a billboard that said a church was close by. I walked 3 miles into town and prayed to the plastic Jesus I stole from the dashboard and asked for his forgiveness.

The next Sunday morning I hitchhiked out of town. An old car that looked familiar picked me up.  The old minister said last night his car was stolen and they found it behind a billboard for his church. "It was strange," he said. "The gas tank was nearly full, and someone stole my plastic Jesus."

"Criminals work in mysterious ways," I quipped. The old minister turned his head. He dropped me off at the police station and prayed for me as they put me in cuffs.

"How'd you know," I asked.

"The plastic Jesus was sticking out of your pocket. And the jeans you stole, they fit too big. I'll pray for you. You keep the plastic Jesus."

I said I'd pray for him. "You keep the stolen gas."

Me and the cops laughed. It took a moment, but the minister did the same.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Time Passing Time
Sitting at a window, I held a photo in my hand.
An early morning waitress brought me apple pie sweetened with honey, and  coffee curdled with cream. Her brown name tag had no name.
Visions overtook me as if I was sleeping.
Empty chairs looked like prison bars.
Running archers raced with flaming arrows.
The window shook with fear.
I called the waitress over. I took the photo from my hand. "This is me when I was young."
A small smile spread narrowly across her face. She pulled a picture from her blouse. "I was beautiful once."
With kindred words I asked if visions overtook her, as if she were still asleep.
She said yes, yes. She could see fear. She could see danger. Right now she saw prison bars and rising archers with arrows on fire. But she knew that visions would not harm her. But time passing time always would.
I asked her for her name. She touched her name tag and said: "See, it's right here."
I said So long, Anonymous. She smiled and said I was the first to call her that. She bemoaned: My feet hurt bad sometimes. My knees and legs, too. The owner wants a young girl, good for business. I got a grown daughter from a man I didn't know. She wasn't born right and I take care of her at home.
The tip I left her was worth more than the meal. I walked slowly. Sometimes I couldn't sleep at night. I had visions of time racing past itself and colliding in between tragedy and emptiness. I didn't tell this to the waitress. She had a heart, and there was no point to break it. No point to curdle her kindness before the early morn.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Water as Music
A night coo awakens me.
My dreams submerged in that silky summer of Asia.
A Taiko drum plays as a beating heart.
The warm July rain.
Women in beautiful kimonos, I dreamed inside a dream.
We passed that youthful season through Tori Gates.
We bowed under red paper lanterns to draw up Buddhist smoke to our white faces; our round eyes closed; our nostrils pulled narrowly upward.

Sometimes we were hungover to our spiritualist.
Sometimes we pretended to be as spiritual as the holy water we ladled with wooden spoons.
Sometimes we really were touched by those Gods, but too young to carry their lightness with us.

I was submerged in that summer of my youth. The sounds of city trains riding along small towers where people slept and awakened. The sounds of my footsteps on narrow streets as I walked and listened to the nearness of voices through thin walls. A mother talked to a child... I assume. A lover talked angrily...I assume. But I know the sound of holy water as it flowed down pipes and made me feel musical. I know the story of red neon signs as they reflected off Tokyo streets made wet by rain. I know the sensual taste of those rain drops as I dried my lips with my tongue.

The morning dove arrives too early. Hours before its name suggests.
Its cooing awakens me in the night. As if to remind me that I am here.

I arise from my western bed. I drink a single cup of water. I close my round eyes and hope to weave that silky dream once more. But it escapes me as it has, except for this one night, for thirty years.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Me. My heart is so cold.
My veins are rivulets of ice
I need to take the warm bath of your love to melt me. To get this blood to flow. Please, heal me! Take your steady female hands. Pour warm water over me. You baptize me and love me as you have before.  I radiate with our vibrant souls. But I too am godless. I too know as with winter's return, as with December's frozen ponds, you and I will freeze our hearts once more. But as atheists we pray to the secret wholeness of warm spring water. We take comfort in the coolness that comes with falling leaves, before the dead cycle of winter's cold.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The New Civil War
I remember when valour was a virtue
When silence wasn't seductive
But I was born in another time,
When openness was my heart, When I held onto love for dear life,
I was a wandering troubadour on fire,
Oh, sing with me for those days!
As we sit and ponder with our pasts before us,
Do you and me despair at our havoc hours?
The rancor by words, bullets on fire,
Some cry "Hallelujah!"
Others "let slip the dogs of war"
We are all so far from home
We were all born in another time, not so long ago
Now there is a wickedness of many in their walk--
like soldiers in a new Civil War, on the march with the certitude of ancient hate, a present duty in the fight for ancestors "blood and soil"
You and me must not despair of these havoc hours!!
I ask you to find home
I ask you to love the day, and sleep easy at night
Together we can cry "Hallelujah" in peaceful verse
We can tame the "dogs of war"
Together we can find sanctuary and revive "the fierce urgency of now"
Yes, there is no time to wait...we have long bridges to cross and cool water to drink from a deep well

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Same
In the middle of a dream I walked to an old woman who cried flower petals as tears.
I asked why she was so eternally sad?
She said her life was shuttered by the loss of her child.
Of how a young boy was taken at night by the spirit of the lake.

Oh, no, no, no...oh, no, no... I spoke to my sleep
Oh, no, no, no...oh, no, no...please, I want to be awake

I awoke, awash in flower petals across my face.
I called my mother and said I was OK.
She said it was 2a.m. and she had the strangest dream...she wept on the phone, and I did the same. Then I learned of a brother I never knew...and how he too was taken by the spirit of the lake.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Walt Whitman
Under a red autumn sky I saw my reflection in a river named after a mystic and for the first time I reveled in the mystery that was me. I felt its icy reverence and affirmed its coldness. This worship. This joy. For fifty years I lived as a human puzzle. My mortal self always anxious as I pushed away what I should have  known. On this day I learned soon I would die. Perhaps it would be in ten years, or twenty years, or thirty years or more. But soon my passing would come as it does to us all. Like a lion with a grey main...or like the great bird who can no longer soar—I would succumb and draw my final living breath. Their journey was my journey. Their mystic was my mystic. We would now drink from the same river’s shore. And together we would no longer fear. I would celebrate our reflection not with loudness or libation, but with the liberty of the ancient hawk who lastly glides and accepts wings that will beat nevermore. ‘Afoot and light-hearted’ I sang harmony with the mystic and the grey lion. I kept pace and then bowed to the great bird as he floated peacefully under the red shimmer of our welcoming sky.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Once I was a 'prudent man of discretion' my lawyer friends often said. But hidden from the effete was the distemper of my soul. So I discredited their lies and stepped on their white shoes--hand stitched I assume. Like Walt Whitman admonished, I took to the Open Road.

I'm sure their heads turn, and their eyes roll when they are reminded of what I have become: a wayfarer, a wanderer, a traitor to their white shoes. They'd sue me for malpractice; indict me for malfeasance if they could. But  I'm hidden on the open road.

Everyday I walk one thousand miles.
This morn' I visited me as a child.
I returned to:
The freedom of the games we played
The Julys of our dreams
The happiness and the heartache
The joy and loss of boyhood dreams
The hikes we took through summer forests
And our trundled steps through December snow

As a 'prudent man of discretion,' I must say. I chose wisely to come this way. I've got a suitcase in my calloused hand. A heavy pack that knots my shoulder blades. My boots are resoled. My feet give me some pain. But not as much if I wore white shoes. Their leather is too thin, the treads too soft for the Open Road.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

I swam beneath a back alley and dived through a bar’s open door. I saw a drunkard’s face—his unkempt brows as wisps of grey; his eyes blackened and forlorn. Another lain on a hard floor. A boozy bile drowns a mouth—I hear a crazy silence mutter.  I see a life as empty as a bottle; a life peeled like a jagged label. It’s pieces swept by a whetted broom along the feet of old whores. I see their fishnet stockings…torn up the back of their failing thighs. I see their caked red lipstick; the desperate plea of falling eyes…their sagging spirits like sagging breasts…I see a woman's sorrow when marked men say no; and others offer the poverty of lies. The poet writes on a yellow pad. He is toothless and old…the pencil is dull; the eraser is worn. He watches drunken men and the aging of human wares. He is anonymous—his verse unread. At night sometimes he too mutters a crazy silence. On other nights he comforts a crying whore.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I live with wildness,
like I was born inside a storm
as if I was raised by howling winds that bound me to wanting shores
I hear the call of those mother winds, her native son must return
With frost beneath my feet,
I walk carefully as if I was newly born, wailing to a storm;
They may tell stories about my return--or lie about my demise;
But I am home-- never to leave these wanting shores

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I walk past an open window;
I hear her coo like a morning dove
My lips will not touch this willing temptress;
nor step back to hold her love

My destiny is the distance,
The road a lengthy romance
An openness beholds me, even as trails are narrow and forlorn.
On dusty days I thirst for rain
Under muddy skies I drown alone
When l close a country window, I hear no morning dove
And to answer Dylan muses: I’ve not visited those Northern Fairs;
nor felt winds blow heavy along their borderlines
But my destiny is the distance,
And my romance is not there
Tomorrow is an open window
I’ll hear the wail of a winter dove

--- Girl From the North Country
by Bob Dylan
Sung by Eddie Vedder

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Side to Side
When I was an anxious boy sometimes I would walk along an ocean's edge and watch crashing tides twist and rise with an evening sky. The woman drenched in wisdom said I had to quiet my ebbing mind; that craziness was like sleeping under a lion's bridge. You can't feel anything but a torn, maddening roar. She broke into laughter and then wailing tears. I watched her disappearing footsteps move side to side along the shallow ocean floor and I knew I had met a wise but drowning stranger. And ever since my grateful mind has been peaceful. Though at times I go to the ocean's edge and listen to it's roar. Like a sailor who chased a great whale.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Kafka at Night
I rolled a snake-eyed reptile in the made-up cage of my mind. It's  cobra tongue slithered; it's tail coiled; it's head erected; it's eyes beading on me; it's razor venomous fangs tearing at my flesh in a twisting primal rage. The poison coursing through my veins; my dying breaths; the last beats of my mortal heart. That hidden corridor. Those reptile dice. This hallucinatory terror of the night. I awake in sweat. Relieved in the remnant of sanity for one more morn'. I dress. Put on my hat. I have no name. Only a desk. A small light. An endless task with no end. No meaning. A large room with nameless men. Each with an endless task. I wonder: Do they dream of poison? Do snake eyes visit them in the night?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Ward
Old boxers have sad faces.
I saw it in their passing eyes as I watched YouTube videos of hunted men in tattered robes. Was there hunger enough in their belly for one more meal? One more steak? To fight for a warm bed. To awake without the blinding headaches they knew would someday come. A concussed fury. The descent into a dementia born by the rage of too many EverLasting fists. The Endswell to their broken brains. The final count in a homeless shelter. The final count in a locked back ward of a city hospital where no other crazy man believes any more. Where their only glory is the fading flurry of punches against bare white walls. This is where they fall. Where the motherless boxer dies. Those forgotten, nameless men who are buried with their half-clenched fists. 
...Their hospital robes-- cleaned, pressed, sanitized-- passed from the dead to the dying who box against the shadows of sadness.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wilt vs Bill
Through milky eyes I watched basketball on black and white TV. The network of the times. The sixties. Wilt Chamberlain against Bill Russell. L.A.’s yellow jerseys or Boston’s Irish green. Wilt “The Stilt”…as straight and tall as a California redwood. The unstoppable force of nature of whom it was said could score against God himself. Bill Russell, slender and lean with his spider arms, the “Watcher of The Sky” would rebound most any ball...catch it in mid-air and pass it into the stealthy hands of running men.

Our parents generation had their poisoned debates: race, war, civil rights, north, south, Asia, turmoil in the streets…are you for or against?…too much change...not fast enough. George Wallace or Dr. King? Whose people will die in the Holy Land? We would fear and despair at these things. That fear and despair now backlashed after all these years. But then we had our own giant debate: Wilt vs Bill. West or East. Who was greater---the outstretched big man in Yellow or Irish Green?

I remember two new boys on our street. Brothers. Black and Proud and from L.A. Their father stationed in the Northeast, sailing on Coast Guard ships. They strutted and spouted that Wilt “The Stilt” was better than any man. We told them in our Boston voices, that they should beware, they are in Celtic’s land, and the custom was Russell was the best and ours. They both looked at us and sighed in disbelief: “Oh, man! He’s not yours.”

My white friend said let’s settle it with some game. On a late June night we sneaked past our parents’ houses. It was 1968 and the months of assassinations and we thought it best they not be aware we would play basketball under flood lights. My friend and I always knew California was soft and easy, but the brothers played faster and harder than we imagined. We played Boston hard in return and saw the surprise in their eyes. We weren’t going to give them an inch on the tar. We pushed them a couple of times, and they pushed back. Then someone suggested we switch up the teams, break up the tension.

That made all the difference. I played with one brother. My friend with the other. Thirteen year old boys finally freed to run easily under the stars and through a soft breeze. Like black and white ribbons we flowed past each other, the sounds of basketball as a summer symphony gamed in perfect harmony. We ran till we could breathe hard no more. Till the sweat stopped flowing from our skin. Then we smiled and told each other our names.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

I met a man who told me he had a father who ran scared from town to town. He'd take his kids in tow, a wife cryin' in the front seat, he'd race them down an interstate. The two lane blacktops are long gone, just like his father who died last year, finally a brave man in his death bed.

The man told me he tried hard to stay in one place. But he had his father's blood and he'd race in the streets; scared as he was, he'd take his boys and wife from town to town. His wife would cry sometimes. He would wipe her tears the best he could with the back of his hand touching her across a front seat. She'd turn away and sob: "You're just like your father, too afraid of one place."

I heard this story and promised myself I'd never long for the days of the two lane black top. That sometimes there are frightened and fast lives on an interstate. Like a million miles, a million stories, two boys in a backseat will never forget.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I held the head of a dying man.
Watched the sunset of his eyes.
He lay in the cold alley between a bar and a church.
During the in between hours of night and day I would see the homeless, the mad, the drunkards, the crack heads. Often their lips too cold to call on an evening prayer.

I held the head of a dying man
Watched the sunset of his eyes.
I did not know his name. I smelt alcohol on his breath.
With my tired hands I would not let his fallen head touch the cold concrete.
Together we raised him in his death and rested him against the wall.
The morning voices of broken heart angels would sigh: Another soul vanishes --its promises never blessed between this bar and a church.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Hurting Lips
I drink black coffee and eat burnt toast, but it doesn't wash away the pain--deep down in my rib cage.

She's just a girl--just out of college, almost half my age.

Last night I fought him hard. Thought I could win her love; but he was as young as she and he beat me down like an ole' bag of bones. I got one eye blackened the other turned blue. My teeth knocked loose.

She's  just a girl
Oh just a girl
Hot coffee swells my throbbing lips
The back of my head hurts
A waitress says I'm too old to fight for someone so young. She's nice; eyes me for a second as she's done over the offering years.

But I can't help myself
--maybe I'm in a crazy suicidal dream stage

She's just a girl
Oh, just a girl
One eye's black, the other blue
I got pain on my hurting lips

Somebody hold me up!
The waitress pours more coffee and washes over me with her sugar eyes. Like a blinded fighter, I've taken a rest before my next round.

She's just a girl
Oh just a girl
I don't want to be your early morning remains
No, I don't want to be your remains

Who am I,
Who am I,
The waitress holds me up. Let's me lean on her woman's chest, and steadies me under a mauling starlight.

She's just a girl
Oh no, she's just a girl. 
Let me be with the forever one if I can just release her with my hurting lips. The waitress let's go and I turn to see kindness in her sweet eyes.

I know that once when she was young she was just a girl. Oh no, just a girl. With no heart for a man almost twice her age.

(Poem's inspiration comes from one of the Who's most underappreciated songs: 'Athena'

Saturday, January 7, 2017

I woke up early. Across the way a carpenter was hammering nails into boards that made up a small house frame. Just as I was to speak to him-- tell him to respect my sleep, a robin landed on my window sill. The bird walked nimbly and then quickly took to the morning sky. I knew then that I had to rise before it was past my time. So I dressed in worker's clothes and held a hammer and took a couple of imaginary swings. I walked across the way and told the carpenter: "Here I am." He handed me a bag of nails and together we built a home where the robins would stay.
The Realist
With a wooden spoon I stirred burnt oatmeal.  Most of the large flakes had turned black and stuck against the bent aluminum pot. I cursed myself because it was the last of my food. Breakfast was the large meal that would keep me going until the afternoon.  By then I hoped to beg or steal for something to eat.

I was a realist. I knew that my near future was bleak. I knew that in two days it would be the end of the month and I would be tossed out from my apartment because it was the third month in a row I couldn’t come up with the rent. I knew that the last scoops of the unburned parts of the oatmeal could be my final unholy breakfast. I knew that I was banned from the food bank as I could be an out-of-control madman who caused a ruckus with staff and clients-- and I shouldn’t have taken a swing at the director because I thought he was calling me names when all he was doing was trying to calm me down. But there were those Christmas carols singing in my head; cursing me, threatening me, making me hear the voices of devils. The cops never should of beat me like they did, their night sticks cracking open my skull and their boots kicking me along my legs. They shouldn’t have let me bleed in the cell and make me clean up my own wet blood before they sent me out alone into the cold morning.

The weatherman said it was going to be below freezing and I had no place to sleep. No family, no friends, no homeless shelter worker to take me in. Once I had all of them, but I caused a ruckus in their lives too. I knew I was unemployable, because I had bad posture, bad clothes, bad teeth and I carried myself like some sort of distorted, twisted lunatic.

I hated everything. I hated my life. I was mad, like in crazy angry. So I hit myself with my wooden spoon. The hot oatmeal burned my face and the top of my head. But I wanted to hurt myself some more and more. So I hit myself again and again. And I poured the pot of scalding steaming oatmeal over me and I felt the stinging bubbling welts on my blistering skin. I placed my right hand over the red burning ring of the stove till I couldn’t bear the pain anymore.

Let the hospital take care of me. They bandage you up. They feed you there. If you don’t cause a ruckus they might find you a place to live where they can feed you. Maybe they can even stop the devil Christmas Carols singing in your head. Otherwise I’ll starve and freeze to death during the first days of winter, my last meal the remains of burnt oatmeal

Monday, January 2, 2017

Critical Thought
I left the left side of my brain in the middle of a quarrelsome night. We argued for hours on how it's logic was pressing me at the pressure points of my wanting life. So in an act of wildness I left that part of me behind. I heard it cry and wail. I heard its rendered accusations of betrayal and how it's synapses had fired the best thoughts of its life for me, the ingrate. I looked back with a smile to show I was not pained by its words, even though I feared greatly beneath my insouciant mask. For I had given that grey matter much as well, like my passiveness, my yearnings, dreams, and fantasies compressed into a fine point of logical oneness. Now I moved with trepidation in my heart. For being unshackled can be imprisoning as well: when the newness of choice can be like carbon steel bars of indecision. But I will take my chances with the right side of my brain. Let its music guide me, even if it is atonal. Let the abstraction of its twisted, broken lines colour me with joy. To the left side of my brain, I say: we will be better off apart. Give it time, critical thought will rein in your hurt, you will move on.